GBMC sued over ADA Disability Law Center alleges discrimination against vision-impaired

Braille signs sought

Health care

August 27, 1998|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Greater Baltimore Medical Center was accused in a federal lawsuit yesterday of discriminating against the blind and vision-impaired.

The lawsuit, filed by the Maryland Disability Law Center on behalf of a blind patient and a blind advocate, contends that the Baltimore County hospital does not provide Braille and raised print or raised numbers on signs that designate permanent rooms, exits and stairways, and in other cases the aids aren't at federally required positions of rooms, exits or stairways.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, does not ask for damages, but calls for GBMC to make its buildings accessible to people with disabilities and to come into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The suit also seeks reimbursement of attorney's fees, costs and expenses.

A GBMC statement issued yesterday said hospital officials had not seen the lawsuit and could not respond directly to its allegations.

The hospital added that it has "gone to great lengths to assure that Braille signage and other aids for the vision- impaired in our facilities meet the needs of our vision- impaired patients, visitors and the requirements of applicable law.

"We regret that the MDLC may have resorted to legal action for its own purposes," the statement said.

David Goldman, a staff attorney for MDLC, said the suit was filed after other efforts failed.

"This has been an ongoing issue with GBMC since 1996," said David Goldman, a staff attorney for MDLC. "Our office sees litigation as a last resort."

According to Goldman, written notices of the violations were sent on two occasions to GBMC asking for a plan to resolve the complaints.

Additionally, the plaintiffs and the plaintiffs' attorney met with GBMC's legal counsel to discuss the alleged ADA violations.

Despite such notices and meetings, GBMC failed or refused to make the necessary modifications, Goldman said.

MDLC is a public interest law firm that is federally authorized to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect and to pursue administrative, legal and other remedies on behalf of those with a disability.

The suit was filed on behalf of Philip Guntner and William Poole, each of whom is legally blind. Guntner is a patient of two doctors at GBMC and Poole is the founder and president of Blind Dignity, an advocacy group.

Guntner said he cannot find one of his doctors' offices without first finding someone to ask for assistance. "It's hit or miss," said the Baltimore resident. "In my opinion, hospitals should be the most accessible place a person can go."

The lawsuit is part of a statewide campaign to enforce and publicize the requirements of Title III of the ADA, covering places of public accommodation, Goldman said.

Pub Date: 8/27/98

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